January 28, 2004
203rd RED HORSE changes commanders
Maj. Debbie Magaldi
Col. Thomas J. Turlip stepped down as the second commander of the 203rd RED HORSE Flight, based in Virginia Beach, on Jan. 10, and turned the reins over to Lt. Col. Paul D. Julian, former 203rd member and most recently the 192nd Civil Engineer Squadron commander, Sandston.
During the ceremony, conducted in the 203rd Headquarters auditorium, Virginia’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Claude Williams, and Virginia’s Deputy Adjutant General for Air, Brig. Gen. Dave Dornan, oversaw the passing of the unit’s flag, from Turlip to Julian in a traditional, military change-of-command. The auditorium was packed with distinguished guests including Virginia Beach Mayor, Meyera Oberndorf, Air Combat Command Civil Engineer officials, and 202nd RED HORSE Squadron commander, Lt.Col. Jack Paschal, unit members, and family and friends of both the incoming and outgoing commanders.
After comments from the generals, Turlip, who is moving up to the Joint Forces Headquarters, Virginia Air Component (formerly VaANG Headquarters) in Sandston, took the opportunity to reflect on the challenges, highlights and tragedies faced by the unit since he took command from Col. Bill Prosise in March 1998.
“…[I]t has been a great honor and privilege for me to have had the opportunity to command such a dedicated and talented group of citizen airmen…. This has been the greatest experience of my professional life, one for which I am most proud,” he said.
“…we deployed to many locations throughout the world and the continental United States building facilities in support of combat forces. I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished…and the stellar reputation that we established with our active Air Force and National Guard counterparts. …in addition to our federal mission, we have served our great Commonwealth, assisting citizens in time of need with flood disaster clean up and distribution of water to areas…stricken by drought. We also assisted our local community of Virginia Beach… helping to make life here a little better.”
“We have also experienced great tragedy,” Turlip continued. “In March 2001, 18 members of our unit and 3 aircrew from the Florida Army National Guard were killed in a plane crash on their trip home from a deployment in Florida. We were devastated by this loss. In the midst of great sorrow and the terrible loss of our good friends and fellow unit members, we came together for the families and the unit in an incredible and compassionate way…. The care of our men’s families was our number one priority….”
“To honor the lives and service of these men, we constructed the memorial that now stands in front of our headquarters building. This memorial was designed and built with RED HORSE labor and all RED HORSE units participated – active duty, reserve, and guard. This living memorial stands honoring the service of these 21 men. We will never forget our friends – fellow unit members – our lost Horsemen.”
“Just 2 years later, still in the midst of recovering from this loss, we found ourselves facing our very first federal activation along with our sister unit, the 202nd, to support the war in Iraq,” he said. “This was a significant challenge following the tragedy of March 2001, but everyone stood tall and met the challenge…. It was a year of uncertainty and frustration…as we stood by…for weeks…not knowing when we would deploy.”
Then, on April 1, 2003, after a change in deployment location, the unit headed for Southwest Asia and Turlip took command of the 1st Expeditionary RED HORSE Group, based at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. While spread out across 8 locations, the unit completed military contingency construction projects valued at more than $20 million. They built or repaired facilities in Iraq, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan.
“You made the sacrifice and left your jobs and families and answered your country’s call to duty. You made our nation and our Commonwealth proud and I was honored to command the 1st Expeditionary RED HORSE Group,” Turlip commented.
On the home front, he applauded the work of Charlie’s Club, the family support group that had grown out of family support needs after the March 2001 aircraft tragedy. Led by Col. Turlip’s wife, Debbie, Charlie’s Club provided send-offs and welcome home celebrations for the deploying unit members, and provided support and cared for families while their guard members were deployed. Group members even dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel, which struck just weeks before the unit returned home.
Turlip took the opportunity to thank many of his senior officers and enlisted members for the support they’d given him over the years, and he recognized the tremendous support each unit member receives from his or her family. “I have been especially blessed with the support of my wife, daughter, and son,” he said, while listing the many ways each had buoyed and assisted him, especially over his 6 years as unit commander.
“As I turn over the reins of the 203rd to Lt. Col. Paul Julian, I can’t thing of a better engineer officer to lead the unit into the future. Lt. Col. Julian has the knowledge, dedication, and ability to be a superb commander and is one of the best engineer officers I know. I know he is up for the challenge.”
And in closing: “To the officers, NCOs, and airmen of the 203rd, thanks for your service to our country. You’ve done an outstanding job! It has been an honor and privilege to have been part of this unit.”
After the ceremony, Turlip and Julian led unit members to the Dining Facility where they cut a large cake with Turlip’s Virginia Military Institute sword. A reception was held afterward at Hurt Hall.